FOXBORO, MA — If you haven’t noticed the Patriots are a little thin at the wide receiver position. Injuries knocked out Jordan Mathews and Kenny Britt. Eric Decker delivered another poor performance on Friday night against Carolina and it’s looking more and more likely that he will not make the team. Throw in Julian Edelman’s 4 game suspension and the Patriots could enter week one with just 3 legitimate wide receivers9 Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson and Phillip Dorsett) who saw NFL playing time last season. Unless of course they make a move. Here’s a list of some players we could see roll through Foxboro in the coming weeks, from the play-makers to the risk takers, and from the easily obtainable to the practically untouchable…
1Brandon LaFell (FA)
People want to talk about Dez Bryant, but all things considered, Brandon LaFell could be the best fit given the current situation. He’s not that far removed from his first stint with the team so he should be able to get on track with the offense as well as anyone on this list. LaFell won a Super Bowl with the Patriots in 2014 and in 2 years in New England proved to be a favorite target of Tom Brady. A foot injury and case of the drops in 2015 led to him being released in the offseason, and after 2 years in Cincinnati he his back on the market. The 31 year old caught 52 balls for 548 yards last year.
2Randall Cobb (GB)
Randall Cobb instantly became one of Aaron Rodgers favorite receivers when he arrived in Green Bay in 2011. However, according to The Ringer’s Mike Lombardi, the Packers may be looking to move Cobb, who is in the last year of his deal. Cobb has been pushed down the depth chart in recent years with the emergence of young receivers like DaVante Adams. A crisp route runner who is used to playing in a precise passing offense, the adjustment for Cobb wouldn’t be as drastic as it would be for others.
3Dontrelle Inman (FA)
The former Charger and Bear showed plenty of potential early in his career, but was slowed last year after undergoing core muscle surgery last offseason. He was traded for a 7th round pick in October and in 8 games in Chicago caught 23 passes for 334 yards. Now a full year removed from surgery, it’s surprising Inman hasn’t been given a chance to show he can return to form. He also occasionally saw snaps at safety when with the Chargers due to injury. Sounds like a Belichick player to me. He’s a risk, but Inman may low-key be the best option on this list.
4Jeremy Maclin (FA)
Maclin was once a 1,000 yard receiver but has struggled in recent years. He put up a career low in most major categories last year with the Ravens in an offense that was all-around anemic. After being released in March there hasn’t been much noise around the 30-year old pass catcher which is a bit suspicious. That being said he hasn’t played in a system that fits his style of play in a few years, and coming to New England could fix that.
5Dez Bryant (FA)
As soon as Britt was cut, the Dez Bryant rumor storm hit F-5 levels. On the surface this one makes as much sense as anything. If the Patriots felt that Britt could handle his role, there was no reason to call Dez. The time has come though that it would be irresponsible to not at least check in. Bryant has proven to be an elite red zone threat, and his end in Dallas seemed more caused by a mentality shift than a decline in ability. The biggest road block here may be Bryant himself; would he want to come play under Belichick in New England? There’s only one way to find out.
6Chris Matthews (FA)
Patriots fans will remember Chris Matthews as the little-known receiver who tormented them in Super Bowl XLIX with the Seattle Seahawks. What has Matthews been up to since? The former Kentucky Wildcat has spent the last 3 seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, on and off the practice squad and IR. While his career has been far from consistant, he has proven he can play at a high level against elite competition, and he would give the Patriots much needed size (6’5, 228). If things with Dez fall through and Maclin, Inman, and LaFell prove to hampered by old injuries, Matthews may prove to be a sneaky good option for the Patriots to try out.
7Aaron Dobson (FA)
Believe it or not Dobson has managed to hang around the NFL since being cut by the Patriots in 2015. He spent the 2016 seasons with the Detroit Lions, before spending last season on IR in Arizona. Dobson is far from a game-breaker but desperate times call for desperate measures.
8Larry Fitzgerald (AZ)
It seems like a yearly event in New England when the ‘Larry Fitzgerald to the Patriots’ rumors pop up. This year though, those rumblings have been quiet if there at all. It’s weird because this year may make more sense for both teams than any in the last half-decade. Fitzgerald is on the last year of his contract with Arizona, who is about to begin a rebuild with a new coach and coordinator. The Patriots have a desperate need for a reliable pass-catcher, and expendable young players on their roster who could be included in a potential deal (Dwayne Allen, Malcom Brown). The holdup here would be Fitzgerald’s no-trade clause, he has said time and time again he wants to end his career with the Cards. This trade may take a Paul Pierce-like voice in the ear telling him leaving may actually be what is best for the organization long term.
Sure, Fitzgerald may be a long-shot, but there is one more Hail Mary, all-in option the Patriots could explore.
9Calvin Johnson (DET)
Before you all come for me on Twitter (@RealAlexBarth), let me just say that this is a Plan-Z, worst-case, need to win this year because Tom Brady secretly told us he’s retiring at the end of the year scenario. That being said, Johnson is within a year of age of two players on the list above, and younger than a third. Before retiring after the 2015 season, Johnson put together a season with numbers that would have led last year’s Patriots in catches (88), yards (1,214), and touchdowns (9). Even 2 years removed from the league, there is no reason to think the 32 year old Johnson couldn’t contribute. Johnson’s rights are owned by the Lions through the 2019 season, so the Patriots would have to swing some sort of deal to acquire his contract, and of course coax him out of retirement and back onto the field. Again, there is a .000000001% chance this all comes to fruition, but if it does, cue the duck boats.